TO PIPE OR NOT TO PIPE
Andrea Ford, founder of RE:Style Studio RESTYLESTUDIOTORONTO.COM
I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to piping details on furniture and decor sewing. From defining visual lines, creating high contrast outlines, learning to sew or upholster properly with piping and the long-term durability of piped edges, there are a lot of cautionary tales to be told.
Piping creates an exaggerated physical outline on furniture. It tailors otherwise unstructured looks and can add interest without gaudiness. On an overstuffed sofa, piping can be used to create definition and balance a marshmallow effect with structure.
However, by definition, it causes your eye to trace along all the edges and calls attention to the precision of points and seams. If your seat cushion cover shifts from normal use, causing the band around your cushion to push forward, you notice it immediately. Piping looks amazing in a showroom or on display, but in real life it takes a lot of maintenance to sit in place properly. Think of that skirt that never sits on your waist as you move, or the lampshade that is proverbially tipped.
Regardless of whether piping that is made from a high contrast or self-fabric, our eyes are trained to follow the lines of a seam. When using printed or patterned fabric, piping cut along the bias almost never aligns with the repeat on faces, creating a new visual distraction.
As a teacher, I encourage students to build up to piped seams while packing patience and precision. Like a highlighter on text, piping highlights every seam and corner. If your sewing stitch is wavy, the piping puckers or is uneven in diameter. If your fabric puckers in a seam, the piped edge is obscured. If a student has limited hand dexterity, the multiple layers of fabric can be cumbersome. In upholstery, the tools and techniques to create piped lines take meticulous handiness.
Making furniture and upholstering, I study furniture wear patterns, ergonomics and how we interact with our furniture. I’ve been asked countless times to “fix” a sofa or chair with worn piping. The remaining fabric can seem otherwise unharmed, but the edges of seats and outer seams are constantly abraded and subjected to pressure.
Contrast piping will show dirt first, especially rub off from dark denim from backs of legs. Piping on arm seams will pick up oils from our skin and are perfect scratching points for pets. The average piped front seam of a seat cushion cover will wear 10x faster than the surface fabric of the cover. In custom furniture and sewing, piping will also cost more in time, labour and yardage requirement.
It was once believed that piped seams in upholstery or decor sewing provided an anchor or reinforcing effect for the seam. However, with today’s technology in sewing machines, overlock stitches and high wear fabrics, it is no longer the case. Properly double stitched seams, even with a top stitch detail, give proper support for long term wear.
With the Janome 1600P, a consistent stitch length and adjustable pressure from the presser foot, piping is easier to sew both for piping prep. as well as the finished seam.
The solid construction of the machine also prevents the waggle dance of the zipper foot that is so common with portable sewing machines.
For stretchy fabrics I avoid cutting bias strips – the fabric will only stretch and grow as you sew the cord into the fabric sheath. However, my love affair with the Janome 1600P has a chapter on how little dispersion happens between 2 layers of fabric on this machine – which is such a key frustration when sewing seat cushion covers and piped seams in bulky fabric.
The next time you plan a sewing or upholstery project, consider the application of piping and how long you want it to look as good as new. There are factors to consider: maintenance required to look tidy, traffic and wearability and if you’re the maker, your own skill level.
Do you have a love affair with piping on furniture and in upholstery?
Do you love the high contrast effect or prefer to have your piping covered in self fabric?
Andrea presents another Guest blog post next Thursday Part 3 PIPING